Rick Perry’s Grades

Texas Governor Rick Perry got lousy grades as an undergrad at Texas A&M. Does it matter?

Texas Governor Rick Perry got lousy grades as an undergrad at Texas A&M. Does it matter?

HuffPo (“Rick Perry’s College Transcript: A Lot Of Cs And Ds“):

A source in Texas passed The Huffington Post Perry’s transcripts from his years at Texas A&M University. The future politician did not distinguish himself much in the classroom. While he later became a student leader, he had to get out of academic probation to do so. He rarely earned anything above a C in his courses — earning a C in U.S. History, a D in Shakespeare, and a D in the principles of economics. Perry got a C in gym.

Perry also did poorly on classes within his animal science major. In fall semester 1970, he received a D in veterinary anatomy, a F in a second course on organic chemistry and a C in animal breeding. He did get an A in world military systems and “Improv. of Learning” — his only two As while at A&M.

“A&M wasn’t exactly Harvard on the Brazos River,” recalled a Perry classmate in an interview with The Huffington Post. “This was not the brightest guy around. We always kind of laughed. He was always kind of a joke.”

I value higher education more than most. After a rough start at West Point, where I mismanaged the transition and prioritized academics last, I recovered to make outstanding grades the rest of my academic career. I never got less than an “A” in a political science class–undergrad, master’s, or PhD.

Rick Perry, on the other hand, has been governor of the second biggest state in the Republic for more than a decade, having been re-elected three times. Previously, he was a very effective state legislator, agriculture commissioner, and lieutenant governor.

I’m reminded of Ronald Reagan’s joke to graduating classes about his own mediocre performance at Eureka College, having focused most of his attention on football and girls: “I’ve often wondered how far I could have gone had I put my studies first.”

Similarly, I’m constantly bemused when people defend politicians against charges that they’re not very smart by pointing to long-ago academic achievements. At some point, George W. Bush’s Harvard MBA and Barack Obama’s presidency of the Harvard Law Review become background story, in that we have other things to judge them by.

If you think Rick Perry is an ignoramus, surely you can find examples from the three decades since he was an Aggie?

FILED UNDER: Education, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. So Rick Perry was not a good student in his 20s, eh? Interesting. You know what I was doing in my 20s? I was *enlisted* (not like you pampered officer types, heh), knee-deep in grease every day as a Machinist’s Mate, and when I wasn’t deployed, I was either drunk or sticking my penis into anything I could catch. I never spent a day in a college classroom.

    There are plenty of reasons to criticize the hypocrite Rick Perry. This is not one of them.

  2. Jay Tea says:

    We already knew Perry wasn’t that bright in his younger days. He graduated college in 1972, and was a Democrat at least through 1988, when was Al Gore’s Texas chairman.

    His conversion to the GOP, and outstanding success since then, shows he did smarten up as he grew older.


  3. Trumwill says:

    If Rick Perry’s college transcripts are relevant, is it still pseudoracist to ask Barack Obama for his?

  4. Jay Tea says:

    @Trumwill: More importantly, will there be a thorough investigation into how this information was released? Or even a demand for one?



  5. just me says:

    it is also more than possible Perry was majoring in partying 101.

    I know plenty of very bright people who got poor grades in college because they opted to engage in the social life and didn’t do much work. College accountability is also very different from high school.

    And honestly at some point college grades really don’t matter much once a person has been working successfully for 20 or 30 years away from college.

  6. JKB says:

    Grades matter when the meme is the the candidate is somehow so brilliant we must vote for them. This theme tends to run more on the Democrat side with their worship off all things academic and disdain for most creation of wealth through work.

    There is a danger to this smartest person in the room idea. I remember the derision that GW Bush organized his administration but to rather oversee the smartest people he could bring together. Whereas, Jimmy Carter, nuclear engineer trained, was reputed to believe he knew better. Clinton as well had a “smartest guy in the room” reputation with good objective reason but thankfully, experience and confidence enough to take good ideas from others. Obama on the other hand, promoted as being very smart, had no evidence of this other than certain selections. Grades suppressed, no scholarship in evidence, anecdotes of being unserious at the HLR and in his teaching position, no objective evidence of “smarts” proffered and none in evidence in the interim with plenty of evidence he won’t take informed opinion under advisement.

    So, no, Perry’s grades mean nothing except that he certainly didn’t let them slow him down. But we might wonder if his Aggie Cs and Ds are equivalent to today’s Harvard As and Bs given grade inflation.

  7. James in LA says:

    Grades from an ancient past mean nothing in the face of the immediate present, where Gov. Perry insists on this day of prayer nonsense, and one wonders when this will be enforced by executive order once he becomes president?

    The tea party was formed for two reasons:

    1. To distract us from the previous criminal enterprise posing as a presidency;

    2. To disassemble our democratic institutions so the waiting theocratic oligarchy can be ushered in.

    The husband/wife bickering about finances has provided a brilliant smoke-screen. The inattention to the law by the current occupant has enabled it with the same efficiency Gerald Ford’s pardon pen enabled young Cheneys and Rummys and Wolfies, who then saw what the consequences would be for subverting the the Constitution:

    Nothing, nothing at all.

    Address that if you want real, lasting change.

  8. michael reynolds says:

    So, let’s see if we can track the right wing’s interest in college grades:

    Bush — Grades don’t count.

    Obama’s — Grades do count. Desperately need his full transcript. Also need full investigation of how he got on the Harvard Law Review (had to have been affirmative action.) Also multiple versions of birth certificate.

    Perry — Grades don’t count.

    The usual deep-thinking from the right.

  9. Tsar Nicholas II says:

    As previously stated if Perry obtains the nomination and then were to beat Rambobama next fall I literally will want to own Eli Lilly & Co. and Pfizer. The degree to which liberal mental patients on the Internet will need psychotropic drugs will be breathtaking.

    Putting that aside, it’s beyond obvious that the left is becoming increasing unhinged about the prospect of a Perry candidacy. The fact they’re leaking this sort of mud so far out from next year’s election suggests their internal polling of a Perry-Obama contest has their man deeply in arrears. This has every hallmark of a media/Democrat candidate preemption operation. Ergo, look for a lot more Perry bashing from the left in advance of his announcement and then in advance of Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina.

  10. Nightrider says:

    You know, we only need one President out of a country of 300 million people. We ought to be able to do better than a dumbass.

  11. Nightrider says:

    Uh, I’m not sure “George W. Bush’s Harvard MBA ” was an “academic achievement.”

  12. steve says:

    Are his bad grades relevant? No. Surprising? No.


  13. Jay Tea says:

    @michael reynolds: Let me explain it to you: it’s about what the candidate puts forth as their qualifications. Bush always said he was a mediocre student — which is why it was so surprising that he’d actually gotten (slightly) better grades than Kerry.

    Similarly, Kerry wanted to make his four months of war service his primary qualification. That’s why people wanted to look very carefully at that. And that’s why some of us remember he never publicly released his records, and still have some questions about his discharge — he said he got out around 1974, but his discharge is dated 78 (or so; I might be off on the precise years, but there is a several-year gap between what he says and what the record says. I have my own theory, but that’s not relevant here.)

    Perry cites as his major accomplishments his record as governor of Texas. He never claimed to be a great student.

    Obama ran on his record as… um… er… ah… OK, maybe that’s where the theory falls apart. But Obama’s supporters and proxies all talked about his brilliance and intellectual and academic excellence, and that’s what some of us want to look at.

    Now he has to run on his record. And that should be most entertaining.

    But back to the topic at hand: Perry has never claimed any great intellect or scholarship, yet we have his records. Obama’s? Not so much. And as I said, where is the call for an investigation and prosecutions for this gross violation of Perry’s privacy?


  14. Neil Hudelson says:

    I literally will want to own Eli Lilly & Co. and Pfizer.

    Really going out on a limb there. If I’m breathing in the next 1 second, I will literally want to own almost any Fortune 500 company.

  15. Boyd says:

    …the three decades since he was an Aggie?

    Note to Dr Joyner: He’s still an Aggie. That’s a stench all the soap and time in the world can’t mitigate. I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to hold that against him in some future election.

    Hook ’em, ‘Horns!

  16. Gustopher says:

    A C in Animal Breeding?

    Barring some strong evidence that he has changed, and is a whole lot more focused, then it does matter. Most people don’t change all that much, the slackers remain slackers. I say this as a slacker myself.

    I’d like to think that the rest of Perry’s record will get greater scrutiny if he becomes a candidate, but that’s not how our media tends to work these days. He’ll quickly get assigned a narrative — either “learned to apply himself” or “another idiot Texas governor” — and facts be damned.

  17. michael reynolds says:

    @Jay Tea:
    Jay: You have no intellectual integrity. You’re utterly dishonest. Nothing you say means anything. You’re a tedious hack with seemingly no capacity for growth.

    Sorry, I just wanted to explain in case anyone wonders why I don’t bother with you.

  18. Boyd says:

    @michael reynolds: While not addressing whether your disdain for Jay Tea is merited or not, I feed compelled to point out that your “explanation,” being based entirely in ad hominem and completely fact free, is no explanation at all, Michael.

    So if anyone is wondering, you haven’t helped them understand in any way, since, rather than addressing anything that JT said, you merely insult him.

  19. Jay Tea says:

    @Boyd: Whether or not michael’s disdain for me is “merited,” it is most heartily reciprocated.

    Just wanted to get that off my chest.

    Of course, now you’ve essentially asked him to go into great detail on why he thinks his disdain is merited, and not addressing the topic at hand — or my response to him.

    I can handle it, as I find the attention a huge ego boost (I can wrap him up so tightly without the slightest effort), but it’s really not fair to the other readers.


  20. Nightrider says:

    One does not have to be liberal to prefer a smart President. Perry’s not running against Obama now. He’s running against Republicans, and one of them or the press are more likely candidates to have “leaked” this now (or is it previously disclosed news just getting new airtime?).

  21. Jay Tea says:

    @michael reynolds: Jay: You have no intellectual integrity. You’re utterly dishonest. Nothing you say means anything. You’re a tedious hack with seemingly no capacity for growth.

    michael, you’re the coolest, sexiest, smartest, cleverest, most literate, most charming, most delightful, and downright ginchiest human being I’ve ever been blessed to encounter. I only wish that I can some day grow up to be just like you, and the knowledge that I will most certainly fail at that aspiration leads me almost to the point of suicide.

    Hey, if you’re going to pronounce whatever I say as meaningless, I might as well make it meaningless to me, too — and, perhaps, a wee bit entertaining for those unfamiliar with our background.


  22. An Interested Party says:

    As previously stated if Perry obtains the nomination and then were to beat Rambobama next fall I literally will want to own Eli Lilly & Co. and Pfizer. The degree to which liberal mental patients on the Internet will need psychotropic drugs will be breathtaking.

    Well, if you buy stock in those companies, you’ll be flush with the alternative as well, because if the President wins a second term, there will be plenty of people who will need to pop a few pills, including you…

  23. george says:

    Oddly enough, grades aren’t even a great predictor in many research fields (at least in science). The students with the highest undergrad marks are often mediocre researchers, because they’ve been rewarded for the ability to apply what’s already known, rather than the ability to discover new things. There’s a lot of cirumstancial evidence suggesting high B, low A students are a better bet as researchers than A+ students.

    Of course, plenty of A+ students do make excellent researchers, but its more often to find someone like Stephen Hawkings who barely had a first class (roughly means A) degree as an undergraduate, because he was too busy letting his imagination roam.

    Graduate studies course marks tend to be better predictors.

  24. JohnMcC says:

    Did he inhale? Kept my grades down.

  25. Nightrider says:

    @george: But he wasn’t getting B+s, he was getting Cs-Fs.

  26. Yet another disillusioned pawn says:

    @JKB: As to his Cs and Ds being equivalent to today’s Harvard As and Bs, while that might be (but probably isn’t) a possible comparison, I don’t think it applies to Obama (which is where I see the comparison going) as he didn’t graduate from Harvard “today.” He’s younger than Perry but not 30 years worth. In any event, the best explanation for Perry may be that sometimes the education we get is irrelevant to our potential..or that Abe Lincoln was right.

  27. Yet another disillusioned pawn says:

    @Jay Tea: Frankly, I’ve read some of your stuff at wizbang and I’ll have to go with hack, too. Sorry.

  28. DRF says:

    Three observations:

    1. Intelligence should be a necessary, although insufficient, requirement for the President. In this era, the issues confronting us are complex and require a disciplined, intelligent approach to solving. Intellectual ability, the willingness and ability to listen to different points of view and select a course of action–all of these are traits we should demand in a President. GWB is a great example of the difficulties we get into with a President of mediocre intellect. Would a smarter, more analytically sound President have been rolled by Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld? Would a smarter President have plunged into war in Iraq? Would a smarter President have been as lax as GWB was in protecting civil liberties and restraining Presidential power?

    2. Perry already has a reputation as an intellectual lightweight, so his college grades are relevant–up to a point–in confirming this view. Of course, there could be any number of reasons why his college grades were so low; some of such reasons, such as partying, immaturity, etc., have been mentioned by other commentators. But let’s remember that Perry’s transcript isn’t just the classic “gentleman’s C” that GWB had; they are really pretty terrible, even in his final year, at a point when the hard-partyers and immature freshmen have generally grown up and settled in. Perry’s political skills may be good (as were GWB’s), but his innate ability to understand complicated policy issues and address them with intelligent solutions has yet to be tested.

    3. With GWB, defenders often said that the President didn’t need to be a policy expert or even that intelligent; he simply needed to appoint capable people and let them do their jobs. But his administration is the perfect example of why this “President as CEO” approach is undesirable. The President is ultimately responsible for decisions and the toughest part of the job is making decisions when team members disagree and avoiding the “yes men” mentality of his staff, and this is where GWB truly failed.

  29. Eric Florack says:

    When someone can cough up Obama’s transcripts, perhaps we could have a conversation about it. Somehow I don’t think that’s going to happen, however.

  30. WR says:

    @Jay Tea: If you need to boost your ego by having your intellectual superiors — essentially anyone who can compose a thought — express their contempt for you, you really need to get a life. Try to accomplish something someday, instead of spending all your time reciting RNC spin.

  31. george says:

    Nightrider: I didn’t mean to imply that Perry was particularly intelligent (actually I know nothing about him, other than what I’ve read in this posting). I was just commenting that undergrad grades aren’t really useful for predicting much about someone’s abilities, even in many academic fields.

  32. Rob in CT says:

    You don’t need his college grades to decide whether or not he’d make a good President. The same was true of Obama, Bush, Clinton, Bush the Elder, Reagan… and so forth. Their espoused principles, desired policies and likely advisors & staff matter far, far more.

    Granted, you don’t always know what you’re getting. Bush the Younger was all “I’m not into nation-building” and then 9/11 “changed everything.” Obama can sound pretty liberal when he wants to. FDR, in his first campaign, railed against Hoover’s deficit spending. And so on. Still, that’s all more important than undergraduate grades.

  33. Phil says:

    Perhaps Rick Perry isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, however Perry – post graduation – was at the controls of USAF C-130’s…”airborne daddy on a one way trip”…type of planes. I jumped out of many of those.

    Glad to know the writer (Joyner) was an “Army Officer”, “Desert Storm Vet” and “PhD”…not sure what kind of an officer you were during the Gulf War (front line or remf) or where you got your PhD and what subject it was in – but you certainly didn’t pilot C-130 Hercules aircraft. If you had, you would have bragged about that in your bio in order to give your “pompous A@#” some more credibility. Anyone who can pilot a C-130 gets my vote – regardless of how much partying they did before or after college.

  34. James Joyner says:

    @Phil: I was Field Artillery and Airborne and Air Assault qualified. I’ve jumped out of C-130s and C-141s. My PhD is political science with a national security policy emphasis.

    That out of the way, I’m not sure what having piloted a cargo plane has to do with being qualified for the presidency. I tend to rank light infantry and special operators — and for that matter fighter pilots and ship drivers — ahead of plane drivers in the military pantheon. But there are plenty of hard-charging war heroes without the brainpower and good judgment necessary to be commander-in-chief.

    A SEAL with a Medal of Honor, like Bob Kerrey, certainly commands my interest. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that I’d vote for him to be president.

    And, anyway, the article is a defense of Perry from the idea that his college grades somehow disqualify him.